About a week ago, I posted a blog that suggested Tim O'Reilly and other leading figures in the blogosphere might want to post a wiki or some other such Web x.0 mechanism for fleshing out a code of conduct (actually, I use the term "ethics") for bloggers, as Mr. O'Reilly said might be needed following a controversy over threatening comments on a blog that got national media attention.
Such a wiki is now up at Wikia, courtesy of Jimmy Wales. Obviously, this was gonna happen, and has nothing to do with my little blog post. But it certainly further piqued my interest, at least as a first swing at a code of enforcing the "Civility Enforced" standard, as the wiki coins it.
Among stipulations of the code, at least as currently posted, are general admonitions to not publish libel or to make comments online that you wouldn't make in person. (O'Reilly's original draft of the standards on that point has since been modified on Wikia to include provisions for obfuscating sources and avoiding physical abuse.)
I'd say most of this falls under the category of common sense, but as the Apostle Paul said, the law is for the lawless, so maybe seeing first-grade, play-nice-at-recess standards of conduct on a wiki might get through to some folks. Couldn't hurt.
On some key points (And I'm using Mr. O'Reilly's original post as reference here), I'm most smitten by:
5. We do not allow anonymous comments.
We require commenters to supply a valid email address before they can post, though we allow commenters to identify themselves with an alias, rather than their real name.
Well, then, you do allow anonymous comments. email@example.com is a valid e-mail address, but few bloggers have the wherewithal to track such a Web mail account to a real person. Web users know this, and some will continue to gleefully violate "Civility Enforced" standards. (Cops can find you when you break the law, thank you very much.)
Please understand that I'm not suggesting all blog owners should verify the real names of all commenters. Again, wherewithal. This just seems like a fairly frail way of addressing what I see as the ultimate problem, at least as far as "civility" goes. It's just the nature of the blogosphere.
3. If tensions escalate, we will connect privately before we respond publicly.
When we encounter conflicts and misrepresentation in the blogosphere, we make every effort to talk privately and directly to the person(s) involved--or find an intermediary who can do so--before we publish any posts or comments about the issue.
Old newspaper hack here: Once something is "in print," it's public, and needs to be addressed publicly -- if it needs to be addressed at all. There are "civil" ways to do this, particularly if what's at the root of the issue is a genuine misunderstanding. Although I think I understand the general good intentions here, it almost belies one of the big problems of the whole blogging phenomenon -- many people simply don't grasp the power of saying something to hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Once it goes online, you can't take it offline. For my money, Mr. O'Reilly's admonition to ignore trolls should cover most of the bases here.
In general, I applaud Mr. O'Reilly's efforts in getting this started, and I hope some good comes from it. The most promising aspect of this entire effort is the simple statement that if a commenter on a blog crosses some line -- fair use, libel, or general incivility, I suppose -- the blog owner will just take the comment down. Seems reasonable, but of course this will draw misguided howls of "censorship." Too bad.
Case in point: About 10:30 this morning, Item 8 had been added to the code at Wikia.
8. We get over ourselves in thinking that this whole blogging nonsense is at all important.
[sic] Bloggers are self-centred idiots that want to be famous for writing down their opiniosn on everything under the sun. This is the problem you sholud be making rules about, not some silly "omg someone on the internet threatened me." I get threatened on the streets some nights, I carry on regardless.
I initially thought about editing the post to tell everybody about how I ward off such street toughs with my light saber, but then I thought better of it. After all, I would not want to say that to the face of whomever made the last comment, given that they are obviously very, very tough.
By 10:50, Item 8 was gone.
Best of luck, Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Wales.
I would not want to tackle the daunting task of teaching people to act with "civility," which is about as subjective a notion as one can imagine. I can't see blog owners installing filters to vet for the terms "shut up" or "B.S."
And I think as the rightly deleted Item 8 -- as well as the whole Kathy Sierra controversy -- illustrates, the blogosphere should first concern itself with reining in out-and-out criminality before it tackles something so sublime as good manners. After all, Mr. O'Reilly's original suggestion for a code was prompted by criminal threatening, not a comment to the effect of, "Man, that Kathy is an idiot." Rude, but legal.
There are a lot of folks out there who simply don't know or care about the difference.